While optimistic, McCaffrey's memo is filled with caveats that have much to do with America's willingness under a new president to finish the job. The Iraqi military, he says is still "anemic," lacking adequate weapons and equipment. "Their military officer corps is immensely better than a year ago -- but the bench is thin."
Though the economy struggles -- (unemployment is 20 percent and under-employment is probably 60 percent, he says), the financial system is "immature," investment capital is lacking, enterprises are run with "badly maintained, outmoded equipment" and the country suffers from "brain drain" -- things are markedly better than at any time since the war started. "The markets are open. The roads are again viable. Oil and electricity (are) no longer routinely sabotaged by the insurgents and criminals. Cell phone communications, satellite TV, and radio are all operating."
McCaffrey is critical of those responsible for managing the war during its early years: "It did not have to turn out this way with $750 billion of our treasure spent and 36,000 US killed and injured." Still, he says, it is critical that force reductions are conducted in a "deliberate and responsible manner," leaving "a stable and functioning state."
Many still argue -- as president-elect Barack Obama does -- that we should never have invaded Iraq. But if a stable Iraq results and serves as a bulwark against terrorism and terrorist states, it may turn out to have been worth it. While much could still go wrong, McCaffrey's conclusion that gains are now "irreversible" is the most optimistic assessment since President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln five years ago.
That sentiment was premature, but if this one is correct, don't look for the current president to get short-term credit. That will go to Barack Obama for pulling the troops out. Long after any Republican can derive political credit, historians will be forced to acknowledge that freedom won and state terrorism lost in Iraq.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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